Carnegie Mellon gets $20M in federal funds to spark transportation safety initiative

The money will help make ‘quality STEM education, training and jobs accessible for all,’ U.S. Rep. Summer Lee said

By: - May 30, 2023 1:23 pm

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Adobe Stock Images).

(*This story was updated at 7:22 p.m. on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, to update a quote from Emilia Rowland, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District.)

Carnegie Mellon University will be awarded $20 million in federal funds over the next five years to help find ways to reduce traffic fatalities and increase equity and sustainability in transportation. 

The funding was announced on Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Summer Lee D-12th District, at an open lab tour at Mill 19 in Hazelwood Green, in Pittsburgh. The university will use it to establish a new transportation center, known as Safety 21, that will connect national partners. 

Dr. Robert Hampshire, U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Assistant Secretary for research and technology/USDOT Chief Scientist; Ngani Ndimbie; Carnegie Mellon University’s Woman in Transportation Fellow; U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District; Raj Rajkumar, Director of Safety21, and Bill Sanders, Dean of College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (Photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District).

Mill 19 is the home of CMU’s Manufacturing Futures Institute , which heads manufacturing and engineering research at the University. Mill 19 is also part of a drive to redevelop Hazelwood Green after the economic impacts of the steel industry. The site was once a World War 2-era steel mill and was closed in 1997, and has recently been the site of local economic revitalization efforts, which includes CMU’s facility. 

Lee said in a statement that as a member of the Senate’s Science Space and Technology Committee, she wants to bring funding for projects to Western Pennsylvania that will create jobs.

“I’m proud to partner with CMU to announce this Safety21 grant that will position Western PA to lead the country in transportation innovation and make meaningful progress towards closing the representation gap and making quality STEM education, training and jobs accessible for all,” Lee said. 

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the UTC grant program, which began in 1988 as an initiative for universities to research transportation technology. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided a boost in funding for the program. 

The Traffic21 Institute at CMU was established in 2009 for the university to research emerging transportation technology in Pittsburgh, positioning it to compete for UTC grants. 

Safety21 marks the fourth UTC grant to the university, with its 2016 grant totalling $14 million to address mobility challenges in transportation. 

Members of Safety21 will collaborate to ensure equity and sustainability in transportation technology, worker education surrounding new technology, and that the U.S. can maintain a competitive edge in transportation technologies, according to a press release.

The program is also focused on safety. The ultimate goal of researchers is to reduce automotive fatalities to zero while keeping critical inputs and viewpoints in mind, according to a statement. Updating transportation technology is just one way to keep roads safe for Americans.

The university’s manufacturing institute has already completed several transportation initiatives, including research into equitable transportation through automated mobility, the future of transit work like bus driving and using school bus routes to deliver meals during COVID-19. 

Carnegie Mellon electrical and computer engineering professor Raj Rajkumar said Safety 21 would use research and development to advance tech and policy innovations. 

“We seek to broaden our impact by ensuring communities have equal access to safety technologies; evaluating energy use and emissions; and supporting domestic commercialization, entrepreneurship and public policy to rally economic strength and global competitiveness,” Rajkumar said. 

Rajkumar will lead Safety21, and is the director of Carnegie Mellon’s current UTC grant, Mobility21.

“The importance of transportation safety research cannot be overstated,” Lee said at Mill 19 on Tuesday. “Even during the pandemic, we witnessed a dramatic increase in roadway fatalities, with over 42,700 lives lost in 2022 alone. It is deeply concerning that minority populations bear a disproportionate burden, and vulnerable road users face increasing incidents.” 

Lee was inspired to close representation gaps in STEM after former U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, of Texas, retired, said Lee’s spokesperson Emilia Rowland.

Johnson, a Democrat, was known for policy initiatives that worked to bring Black, brown and marginalized communities into STEM policy decisions.

*“There were a lot of times, especially earlier in [Pittsburgh’s] history, that the benefits of investments in technology didn’t benefit and actually hurt Black, brown, marginalized and working class communities,” Rowland told the Capital-Star.

Rowland said that Lee is focused on making sure Western Pennsylvania gets federal investments that are felt through the entire community.

Safety21 research partners include Morgan State University, Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The Community College of Allegheny County and the Community College of Philadelphia will also receive support for workforce programs tailored to the transportation workforce. 

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DaniRae Renno
DaniRae Renno

DaniRae Renno is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.